URBANA – To those who knew him, Daniel H. Schreiber was a passionate young man full of life and quirky ideas, always ready to take on a new project.
Mr. Schreiber, 24, died early Tuesday morning north of Urbana. A memorial service will be held sometime in August at Prairie Fruits Farm, where Schreiber worked. You can check the Flatlander Chocolate page on Facebook for more information as it becomes available.
"I have no hesitation in saying that (Mr. Schreiber) was the most unique individual I have ever met in my life," said Amy Smith, who met him through her boyfriend, Tim Vieira. Vieira and Mr. Schreiber met in a class in the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois. Schreiber had been a graduate student in the department. He had since decided to withdraw from the doctoral program, said Jeff Erickson, a computer science professor who knew Mr. Schreiber, to pursue chocolate full-time.
Smith, Vieira and Mr. Schreiber became roommates at an apartment at Coler Avenue and Nevada Street in Urbana.
There, they had all sorts of adventures, including Mr. Schreiber making his first batch of bean-to-bar chocolate. It originally was a distraction from graduate school, Schreiber told The News-Gazette in a story last November.
"(Mr. Schreiber) was persistent and earned enough money on kickstarter.com to buy some chocolate-making equipment," Smith said. "He made his first bars of chocolate in our dinky oven and blew the shells off of the freshly roasted cacao beans with my hair dryer. Tim tasted the first piece. I've never seen someone who'd taken an idea and ran with it so far and so successfully."
After deciding he wanted to make chocolate, Mr. Schreiber pursued the idea in the last year, first distributing chocolate bars to friends and taking donations, to starting Flatlander Chocolate, renting a commercial kitchen on Urbana's east side and becoming a vendor at Urbana's Market at the Square.
Champaign resident Laurence Mate, who first met Mr. Schreiber as an investor on kickstarter.com, said the chocolate maker had started selling his bars in local cafes and had upcoming meetings in Chicago to discuss selling his product there.
"He really wanted a pure expression of the bean," Mate said. "His chocolate had great purity and intensity."
And while Mr. Schreiber was passionate about his product, he also cared deeply about how it affected the people consuming it, Mate said.
"Dan was always thinking about people," Mate said. "He was enthusiastic and energetic, but he wasn't someone to get in (your) face.
Lisa Bralts, the director of the Market at the Square, said she met him about a year ago when he first started making chocolate and was handing it out for people to try.
"His chocolate (and) what he was doing was so unusual," Bralts said. "Artisanal chocolate is not done by many people, bean to bar, in this country. He had definitely created a niche for himself."
He was personable and easy to work with, Bralts said, and the fact that his product was different made him a good fit with the market.
"He had wonderful energy and enthusiasm and really knew how to get things done," Bralts said. "He was really focused. ... He was very dedicated, I think, to bringing the community closer together through food and particularly through his chocolate. I think that's going to leave a pretty big hole in the food community, for sure."
Mr. Schreiber's space at the market will be left empty for the rest of the season, according to the market's blog, and market-goers are encouraged to leave flowers, notes and other remembrances there.
Mate said Schreiber wasn't just passionate about chocolate – he was also interested in fermenting foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, and in starting what he called a 1,000-year-old Food Club, to sample things people ate long ago.
"This was something to give pleasure and meaning to everyone's lives," Mate said.
Withdrawing from graduate school to pursue project and other activities, like the Dine in My Back Yard local food dining club and an advertising campaign about bicycle safety, had been a tough decision for Mr. Schreiber, said Erickson, who first met him when he worked as a teaching assistant as an undergraduate student.
"Dan was the type of person who would look at what he was doing and extract things to study from that," Erickson said, like how to compute the shape a rope forms when being used for rock climbing. And though the questions Mr. Schreiber asked were tough, he stuck with them.
Schreiber loved math and computer science, Erickson said, but also wasn't sure they were the right fit for him. The decision came last February, he said, and it had been a stressful time for Mr. Schreiber. However, they'd talked about three weeks ago and Erickson said he saw no indication if distress. Other friends expressed similar shock about his death, which the Champaign County sheriff's office said was an apparent suicide.
Erickson said graduate school can be a tough environment, and unfortunately, suicide happens often enough that faculty members know to tell students that if they need to, they can always seek help with the counseling center on campus, with faculty members or even the department head.
"People are always willing to help," Erickson said.